For the last seven days, Elon Musk has made major headlines. But it’s not Tesla, where he’s CEO, that he’s toying with this time. Instead, he’s been making waves around his recent investment in Twitter.
Last week’s news that he had purchased enough Twitter stock to become the company’s largest single shareholder left onlookers wondering how Musk, the outspoken tech mogul and self-described “free speech absolutist,” might try to change the direction of the company, which has identified harassment and misinformation as two of its moderation targets since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
True to form for the eccentric and bombastic Musk, the headlines didn’t end there. For seven days, Musk made major news with his statements and actions pertaining to the company and its future. First, Musk seemed to confirm that he would join Twitter’s board of directors, but days later, he and Twitter’s CEO reversed the decision with cryptic statements and tweets.
Here’s how the story has unfolded so far.
April 4: Musk reveals that he’s bought 9.2 percent of Twitter
On the morning of April 4, Musk submitted a regulatory filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission noting his purchase of the Twitter shares. The filing said the purchase had taken place on March 14, meaning Musk was submitting his filing 10 days late, according to SEC rules.
As news of the filing broke, figures in the tech industry speculated about how Musk could change the company as someone who had filed as a “passive investor.” People also began going through Musk’s recent statements about Twitter.
On March 24, Musk had asked his followers whether they thought Twitter adhered to the principle of free speech, following up by saying: “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”
After filing his investment, Musk caused further commotion when he tweeted asking followers, “Do you want an edit button?” referring to a longtime feature request from Twitter users and seeming to signal that he was interested in making changes to the platform.
Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, quote-tweeted Musk’s poll about the edit button and copied his March 24 statement, writing: “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”
On Tuesday, Agrawal announced in a statement on Twitter that Musk had been given a seat on the board.
“Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board,” he wrote. “He’s both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is exactly what we need.”
Musk responded by tweeting, “Looking forward to working with Parag & Twitter board to make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months!” Later in the day, Musk submitted another filing to the SEC indicating that he would be taking a more active role as an investor and that he had agreed not to purchase more than 14.9 percent of the company. The more shares Musk owns, the easier it would be for him to potentially orchestrate the direction of the company.
The same day, Twitter board members — including co-founder Jack Dorsey — tweeted their congratulations to Musk. “I’m really happy Elon is joining the Twitter board,” Dorsey wrote. “He cares deeply about our world and Twitter’s role in it.”
Dorsey described Musk and Agrawal as a would-be “team” who “both lead with their hearts.” Omid Kordestani and Bret Taylor, two other members, also tweeted welcoming Musk to the board.
Twitter announces it’s working on an ‘edit’ button
After Musk’s “edit button” poll closed, over 4.4 million accounts had voted, with 73.6 percent asking for the addition. On Wednesday, Twitter announced that it had been working on an edit button “since last year.”
“No, we didn’t get the idea from a poll,” the company’s tweet noted with a cheeky winking emoji.
Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s head of consumer product, noted in another tweet, “Edit has been the most requested Twitter feature for many years.”
At the same time, Musk was tweeting memes about his supposed influence over Twitter, including one that drew a link between Musk’s first major business move — “Sells Zip2 to Compaq for $305m” — and Twitter’s “finally” getting an edit button. Zip2 was Musk’s earliest business venture, which he sold in his late 20s. The domino meme he posted implies that Musk’s selling the company and establishing his entrepreneurship was the first in a series of events that would eventually lead to Twitter’s adding the edit feature.
April 9: Musk asks whether Twitter is dying
The weekend brought no slowdown from Musk.
On Saturday, Musk returned to his personal Twitter account with more qualms about the company. “Is Twitter dying?” he asked in a quote-tweet showing the 10 most-followed Twitter users. “Most of these ‘top’ accounts tweet rarely and post very little content.”
Musk called out A-list entertainers Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, who are the sixth and second most-followed people on Twitter, respectively.
“For example, @taylorswift13 hasn’t posted anything in 3 months,” Musk said. “And @justinbieber only posted once this entire year.”
Then, Musk took aim at the offerings in Twitter’s new subscription service, Twitter Blue, which costs $3 a month. Musk said he turned off the customizable Twitter Blue feature that stops a tweet from being sent immediately, giving users 20 seconds to reread and reconsider their tweets before they post.
Musk suggested that Twitter Blue’s service should instead give its subscribers a verified check mark, which currently requires a person working at Twitter’s Verified team to approve. Musk said that should be “different from ‘public figure’ or ‘official account’” verification check marks.
His idea would reduce the number of fake accounts and bots, Musk suggested.
“Now subtract crypto scam accounts that twitter shows as ‘real’ people in everyone’s feed,” Musk wrote in a reply to another user.
Then Musk said Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco should be turned into a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, “since no one shows up anyway.”
Musk also jokingly suggested that Twitter remove the letter “w” from its company to become “titter.” He even ran another poll to gauge interest.
Musk is known for his cheeky tweets, which are played for laughs but can get him and his companies in legal trouble. In September 2018, Musk settled with the SEC after he tweeted that he would take Tesla private at $420 per share, referring to the number associated with marijuana. The SEC charged Musk with securities fraud and charged Tesla with “failing to have required disclosure controls and procedures relating to Musk’s tweets,” a charge Tesla settled.
The terms of the settlement included Musk’s stepping down as Tesla’s chairman, requiring Tesla to hire additional independent directors and paying $40 million in penalties.
April 10: Twitter CEO says Musk won’t join the board after all
Late Sunday, Agrawal announced in a statement on Twitter that Musk wouldn’t join Twitter’s board. He wrote that it was Musk’s decision.
“We also believed that having Elon as a fiduciary of the company where he, like all board members, has to act in the best interests of the company and all our shareholders, was the best path forward,” Agrawal wrote.
Agrawal wrote that his announcement on Tuesday had been “contingent on a background check and formal acceptance” and that Musk was to have been officially appointed on Saturday morning.
“Elon shared that same morning that he will no longer be joining the board,” Agrawal wrote. “I believe this is for the best.”
Agrawal and the other Twitter board members reversed their initial approval of Musk’s appointment sometime after Musk tweeted criticizing the company. After Agrawal announced that Musk would no longer sit on the board, Musk tweeted — and later deleted — a giggling emoji.
That wasn’t the only tweet that seemed to refer to or directly criticize Twitter that Musk deleted. He also deleted several critical tweets he had posted since he made his April 4 SEC filing, including several about Twitter Blue. Musk also deleted a tweet that showed a picture of him smoking marijuana on Joe Rogan’s podcast with the caption “Twitter’s next board meeting is gonna be lit.”
Musk then liked a tweet speculating that he wouldn’t join the board because he couldn’t criticize Twitter at the same time. “Let me break this down for you: Elon became largest shareholder for Free Speech. Elon was told to play nice and not speak freely,” the tweet says.
April 11: A new filing says Musk can acquire more Twitter shares
In a filing submitted Monday, Musk indicated that he could buy more shares of Twitter following his decision not to join the board. “Depending on the factors discussed herein, the Reporting Person may, from time to time, acquire additional shares of Common Stock and/or retain and/or sell all or a portion of the shares of Common Stock held by the Reporting Person in the open market or in privately negotiated transactions,” the filing reads.
The possibility could create a more hostile relationship between Twitter and Musk, according to analysts who spoke to CNBC on Monday.